Aydan Marriner



Aydan and I played footy together down south last year. He was 19, we were part of a small crew working for his dad, building coastal cliff walks near Port Arthur.  From the lookout we could see Australia’s southern most tip. We often had to run the 5-8 kms out over the mountain to get to the ute, then drive an hour, dodging wildlife through some of the most spectacular scenery on earth to get to training. It was worth it, every bit so, not just for the addiction of footy, but the shared challenge.


Funnily enough, my best memories of the year are of the nights we finished late and couldn’t make the drive. We would go to a small local oval, find the light box, and, with a spark, be away, training in ankle deep sog, watched by wallabies and wombats.


For what? Intermediate reserves in a middle of the ladder team?


No, for footy.


Because the club was a ripper, and, more so, we love it, all of it! The touching of leather, the lead, the kick, the adventure of outpost sport. For the work ethic. The rhythm of training.


Too many times I’ve seen coaches at struggling clubs start their Tuesday night chest-fallen, out front of ten to fifteen blokes, saying; “I had plans that need more numbers…” then do go-through-the-motions drills, teaching those that do brave the cold, that want to work, about defeat.

I want to yell at them about pride, and body language, and those that want to have a bloody dip!


Aydan and I invented drills for two, that involved perpetual running while executing ball skills, that took ground and air skills, that required game strategy, and one-on-one competitive spirit. We wasted nothing, not a night.

Not in this life.


And between each drill we hurt, then did it easy, sucked in air and knew things. What it means to play football.

Russell Robinson, a great Tassie export, once told me every now and then in a game, when the ball was stuck down the other end, he would drift into the middle and simply take it all in. He’d look around a full MCG and be overwhelmed by how lucky he was. Training with Aydan on the school-sized oval in Tassie winter was no different. Dodging animal poo, I would look up into the moon-lit rain, or minus degree Milky Way, listen for the roar of remote coastal waves crashing into cliffs and dens, and be mind-numbingly glad.


And Aydan felt the same way.

On the long drives to play or train for the Sharks, in any work ute or $200 bomb we could find, we would trade stories and talked about all sorts of things. Work, science, photography, life, cockheads, good blokes, his partner, mine, my upcoming child, people, our team Dodges Ferry, the world. But in hindsight never the AFL. I guess we already had our football.


He was just a ripper, thoughtful young bloke who was happy as all buggery when he played well, and got way too down when he didn’t. Who liked to use his solid frame to have them bouncing off of him. Every time, he would take on packs when he got the ball!


31 years and about 550 games difference, his friendship was a thing of pure gold.


This year, the job has taken us to the North Queensland cane fields. The mountain track we’re building is unforgiving, my back is a constant problem. Being a rugby state, the nearest Aussie Rules competition is about 1½ hours drive from work away.


I cruised down to check it out.


There were five clubs to chose from, one a walk up flag. But the club next to it was a bit closer and short on numbers, not winning. It felt right. I started with a club like this. It taught me so much. It’s time to give back.


One night and I knew it’s a great club – most are. They’ve just got to learn that one thing that’s everything. How to not accept defeat.


I played a round robin comp for them without training, in the impossible heat, and was useless after the first ten minutes, yet fell through three games over seven hours like an old fool. And resolved to train twice a week, no matter how draining the tropical humidity gets.


Aydan, meanwhile, has bought a campervan. He wants to spend his weekends with his girlfriend exploring; taking photos, hitting ghost town tableland pubs, waterfalls, obscure townships, landscapes, discovering everything and anything. Good on him. Got a job that takes you to live all over the country? Burrow in! I love the way he seizes life.


But it’s footy for me. My partner and child.


Watching the AFL will be a challenge, it’s not on in the pubs, and after games I’ll be on the road. This year, for the most part, I’ll just have to wish my mates Dean Towers and Toby Nankervis the best.


I have no idea how long this job will take, or where the next one starts. There might be work for me in Port Douglas if there’s a gap.  Home of the Crocs. All that driving while knackered will be hard without Aydan. But he’ll be off doing. And probably get itchy feet. He is such a champion bloke!


A mate.


But for now, for me, our season opener is two weeks away. It’s time to pull my body together, get fit.


Season 36, once more into the breach…


Read more footy yarns by Matt Zurbo.


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  1. Harry Longabaugh says

    Great piece, Matt. You write football, and life, like few before you. Season 36???

  2. Colin Ritchie says

    Isn’t this what the Footy Almanac is all about, “sport, write from the heart”! As always Matt, a fab piece of writing.

  3. A saying I hear in footy parlance is ‘going to the well again’. It seems like many of us can only go a few times before it runs dry and we are finished. Your well runs deep my friend! 36 seasons. Good stuff! Aydan sounds like a top bloke and a goer for a youngun’. I was glued to the couch at his age so I am impressed.
    Best of luck up north, Matty.

  4. Peter Fuller says

    There’s so much that resonates in this piece, Matt. I recall your series about training drills specifically for small numbers. How crucial it is to train properly, if you want to play to your ability. I also love your analysis of your choice of team up in FNQ.
    Without being confident of the geography, I’m guessing your walking track near Port Arthur might be part of the three Capes walk. If I’m correct, you’ll be delighted to hear that David Parkin described it in glowing terms as part of one of his anecdotes at a splendid Almanac lunch last Friday.
    Best of luck for season 36, you’re a marvel.

  5. Great stuff Matt, as always.

  6. The things we do for footy…

    great read again mate – all the best to you and your family!

  7. I dips my lid to you, Old Dog.

    And that old saying “you are a long time retired” doesn’t really apply to you!

    Keep plugging away, mate.

  8. Matt Zurbo says

    Indeed Smokie. Thanks all!!

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